3 October, 2003: Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel...

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Nick Barlow draws to our attention a comment by George W. Bush:

Free nations don't develop Weapons of Mass Destruction.

-- and by way of comment, links to the sites for the UK's nuclear weapons operation (now privatised...) at Aldermaston and this map of weapons sites in the United States. Or we might look at France's efforts in the field; or perhaps (for those foaming-at-the mouth, freedom-fry munching ingrates on the web's lunatic fringe) those of Israel or of India, the world's largest democracy. Alternatively, we could consider biological and chemical weapons.

So, Bush ignorant -- or hypocritical. What's new?

Not much. But there's a more interesting point here, to which I have alluded before.

The term `Weapons of Mass Destruction' is Newspeak, a way to mask a great big lie. Lumping nuclear, biological and chemical weapons together in one category is a way to justify using nuclear weapons to deter other states from developing chemical and biological weapons -- and using nuclear weapons might be an effective way to destroy those chemical and biological weapons before they were used. Doubtless this is sound military logic, though in these uncertain times I'd advise reading this before you consider living anywhere near a factory making ibuprofen or baby milk.

In fact, there's no comparison between the destructiveness of the hydrogen bomb and of chemical and biological weapons. The idea of sticking all three types of weapons into one category is as a way of justifying US threats to retaliate against states which use chemical or biological weapons with nuclear weapons. The implication: that use of sarin or anthrax is so serious that retaliation with a hydrogen bomb is justified. (See, for instance, this piece by Daniel Ellsberg which traces this trope back to the last gulf war, or any number of pieces in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on proliferation -- start with this one and search the archives.)

Sadly, the category of `Weapons of Mass Destruction' is very appealing to the ignorant -- especially in the press -- and those who seek to mislead, and so, over the past couple of years, we've seen hijacked aeroplanes, missiles armed with conventional warheads, suicide bombers, and even ex-Cabinet Ministers like Clare Short and Robin Cook described as falling in to the category. More than fifty years ago, Orwell warned against using terms which have become meaningless through overuse:

Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies `something not desirable.' The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.

-- the same advice applies to `Weapons of Mass Destruction'. Those who don't know whether they're talking about nuclear, chemical or biological weapons oughtn't to be pontificating on the subject anyway.

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.